What is the Fair Housing Act?

We’ve all heard about the Fair Housing Act or the Fair Housing Administration, but not everyone knows what exactly they are for or when they came about.

In 1948, the Supreme Court heard the case Shelley v. Kramer and ruled in favor of the Shelley family, who had purchased a home in a neighborhood with a ‘covenant’ which provided that “no part of said property or any portion thereof shall be, for said term of Fifty-years, occupied by any person not of the Caucasian race. . .” They purchased this home without knowledge of this rule, and the neighbors tried to prevent them from taking possession of the home by taking them to the Missouri Supreme Court, which ruled against the Shelley’s.

Fortunately, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case once again, and determined that even a private ‘law’ such as the aforementioned neighborhood covenant which violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment is unconstitutional, as the state aids in enforcing covenants. (source: Cornell Law School)

Although this case and others like it were decided in favor of equal housing opportunity for people of all races, discrimination continued to run rampant in the real estate market. From History.com: “Meanwhile, while a growing number of African American and Hispanic members of the armed forces fought and died in the Vietnam War, on the home front their families had trouble renting or purchasing homes in certain residential areas because of their race or national origin.”

Finally, after the efforts of Clarence Mitchell Jr., Senator Edward Brooke, and many others aided the Fair Housing Act in passing the Senate, the House of Representatives met to vote on the legislation on April 4th, 1968. This was the day that Martin Luther King, Jr was assassinated, and President Lyndon B. Johnson increased pressure on Congress to pass the new civil rights legislation. It passed on April 10th and was signed into law by Johnson on April 11th.

The amendment to Title VIII of the Civil Rights act included several things, most notably prohibiting “discrimination concerning the sale, rental and financing of housing based on race, religion, national origin and sex.” In 1988 this was expanded to prohibit discrimination based on disability or family status.

This legislation has not ended housing discrimination entirely, although that would be a lovely bow to tie the story up in. While discrimination still happens in housing, the National Association of Realtors has made it a top priority to ensure that reporting discrimination is easy and effective, that enforcement happens at a local level, and most importantly that all people have equal opportunity to purchase and live in a home they love. At Distinctive Properties, we daily strive to act with integrity while serving every family or individual who entrusts their real estate needs to us.

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